A Solution with ZERO Net Property Tax Increase

 

At 104 years old, South Tama County Middle School has numerous facility and capacity challenges that, if left unaddressed, could negatively affect the level of quality education we provide to our students. The Board of Education is proposing to the community that we build a new middle school to address these pressing needs. If approved, the plan would not result in a property tax increase

The middle school would be built on a shared site, adjacent to the current high school. This would provide for opportunities to expand resources while creating efficiencies for staff members. It would become a central drop-off location for parents with multiple children and have adequate off-street parking for staff and visitors.

 

By acting now, the board believes we can address these needs and ensure STC Middle School continues to provide excellent learning environments for students now and in the years to come.

Special Election: March 3, 2020

 

On Tuesday, March 3, 2020, South Tama CCSD residents can vote on two bond questions and a Revenue Purpose Statement:

 

  • Question 1 asks voters if the district can borrow $20.8 million toward building a new middle school. 

  • Question 2 asks voters if the district can exceed the levy limit from $2.70 per $1,000 of assessed property value, to $4.05 per $1,000 of assessed property value. 

  • Question 3 asks for the approval of a revised Revenue Purpose Statement, which would grant the district permission to use state penny sales tax dollars toward construction projects. 

 

Throughout this process, the board has engaged the community to find the best-possible solutions to the challenges we face. This process has included a community-wide survey and public forums. We want to continue to hear your thoughts about how we can best address the challenges ahead of us.

Read more about the Adopted Financing Plan for the proposed project

View a slide deck from a February 4, 2020 presentation

Frequently Asked Questions

 

Why are there three questions on the ballot?​

On March 3, community members will vote on three ballot questions. If all three are approved, the South Tama County Community School District will be able to build a new middle school without raising property taxes. 

 

  • Ballot Question 1: Voters will be asked if the district can borrow $20.8 million toward building a new middle school. The purpose of this question is to ask permission to borrow money and to explain what the district will do with the money, which is to construct, build, furnish, and equip a middle school addition next to the existing high school. 

  • Ballot Question 2:  Voters will be asked if the district can increase the levy limit from $2.70 to $4.05. The purpose of this question is to generate enough money to pay for a middle school. When calculating compliance with levy limits, you are not allowed to factor in the planned use of sales tax revenue for property tax relief. However, we want to be clear that increasing the levy limit will not result in an overall property tax rate increase, due to the District’s ability to utilize sales tax to reduce the overall levy rate. Permission to use state sales tax revenue is asked in Ballot Question 3.

  • Ballot Question 3: Voters will be asked to approve an updated Revenue Purpose Statement. This is necessary because the new Sales Tax law put an automatic “sunset” on the District’s current revenue purpose statement as January 1, 2031. The purpose of this question is to grant the district permission to use the statewide sales tax revenues (also known as “SAVE”) towards construction projects. The ability to structure the District’s planned commitment beyond 2031 allows the District to keep the overall property tax rate increase from occurring.

 

In summary, the district will use sales tax revenues — not property taxes — to keep the overall levy rate from increasing. This means state penny sales tax dollars will essentially “buy down” the property tax impact of the project.

 

There are two other ideas to keep in mind: 1) The district automatically receives state sales tax revenue each year, meaning that sales taxes will not go up as a result of this project and 2) state sales tax revenue is not dependent on locally generated sales tax revenue.

 

Finally, we are proud to say the South Tama CCSD is in a strong financial position to incorporate this plan. Keep in mind that our property tax rate has not increased since 2012, and we actually just decreased property taxes by $.78 for the 2020 fiscal year. All this has been done without cutting staff, programs, or services. Very few school districts in Iowa can make this same claim.

 

We understand that financing a middle school project without raising property taxes can get complicated. However, as a board, we are confident that the solution described above represents the best-possible option to replace our 104-year-old middle school.

 

What is the difference between a bond issue and a Revenue Purpose Statement?

 

A bond issue occurs when a school district seeks to exceed its state-imposed revenue limit to fund facilities projects. In the case of South Tama, the district is asking voters to approve a bond to fund the building of a new STC Middle School. A bond requires the support of more than 60% of district residents to pass.

 

The Revenue Purpose Statement, if approved, would allow the district to use statewide one-penny sales tax dollars (through a program called SAVE) toward construction projects. More than 50% of district residents must vote in favor of the statement for it to pass. 

 

How much would a new middle school cost?

 

The total cost of building a new middle school will be $29 million. On March 3, voters will be asked to approve $20.8 million in General Obligation bonds, as well as the use of just over $6 million in funds from the statewide penny sales tax (known as SAVE). The remainder of the funds would come from the district’s cash on hand. 

 

What would be the tax impact if all three questions are approved by voters?

 

If district residents vote in favor of the three questions on the ballot, South Tama CCSD would be able to build a new middle school without raising local property taxes. It is important to note that the passage of the third question would prevent property taxes from increasing, as it would enable the school district to use state penny sales tax dollars to “buy down” the property tax impact of the project. 

How do South Tama's taxes compare to neighboring districts?

Currently, South Tama CCSD's tax levies are the fifth-lowest among WaMaC Conference schools. The chart below offers a comparison: 

What work has the district done to date to examine its needs and find solutions?

 

In fall 2019, South Tama CCSD conducted a community-wide survey to share information on our facilities needs and to gather input and feedback from district residents. The survey found that 87% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that middle school facilities should be addressed now. 

 

In addition, the district has engaged in strategic planning and conducted building walk-throughs of the current middle school, high school and the former Juvenile Home. These events have been open to the public. We continue to work to ensure our community members have a voice in this process.

 

What are the options the district and board have considered to address the middle school facility needs?

 

Through the process to find solutions to the facility needs at STC Middle School, the district and board carefully considered three main options:

 

  • Option 1: Renovate the current middle school, which Invision Architects estimates would come at a cost of 96% of that to build new. Renovating while students are onsite would also add costs, lengthen the project timeline and pose significant challenges to teaching and learning as work takes place.

  • Option 2: Renovate the former Iowa Juvenile Home in Toledo. The cost to renovate the property would be about 99% of that to build new, while the current average classroom size in the building is just 670 square feet. There are also several other limitations, including the fact that the gymnasium does not have seating for spectators. 

  • Option 3: Build a new middle school adjacent to STC High School. A shared site holding both the high school and middle school would provide for opportunities to expand resources while creating efficiencies for staff members. More than 75% of residents said they favored the existing high school site or a site that makes the most financial sense to build a new STC Middle School in the recent survey.

 

Why can't the current middle school serve modern learning needs?

 

STC Middle School has served our community well since it was originally built in 1915. However, we are reaching a point at which the building is reaching the end of its useful life. 

 

Specifically, the school is unable to provide the following components critical to modern teaching and learning:

  • Future growth potential

  • Central air conditioning

  • Structural adaptability

  • Grouped professional learning communities

  • Small learning communities

  • Student collaboration spaces

  • Separated bus pickup/drop-off

  • Practice fields

  • Health classroom

  • Language classroom

  • Agriculture and career & technical lab

  • Family and consumer science lab

  • At-risk classrooms (undersized)

 

The school also lacks modern security components, including controlled and monitored entrances, remote lockdown capabilities, area compartmentalization, supervised areas and fire sprinkler systems. 

 

How does the current middle school building compare to a typical modern middle school?

 

The age and space constraints of the current STC Middle School prevent modern and flexible learning to take place. Below are some notable differences between the building and a typical middle school facility: 

  • The typical lifespan of a middle school in the United States is 70 years. STC Middle School is 104 years old.

  • The middle school sits on just five acres of land, limiting the space available for growth, outdoor academic opportunities and safe site development. A typical middle school has 35 acres of total space.

  • There are only 20 onsite parking spaces at STC Middle. The typical middle school has about 150 spaces. A significant lack of parking creates inconveniences for school staff, parents and community members. On-street parking leads to safety concerns for drivers and pedestrians. 

 

Additionally, existing classroom sizes are significantly smaller than recommended, leading to inefficiency in staffing and the inability to accommodate current collaborative learning styles. STC Middle School's average class square footage is 760 square feet, below the typical 850 square feet. This means each classroom essentially has just one layout option.

 

It is also important to note that the current middle school serves 450 students in a building that was designed for only 292. This has led to crowded spaces throughout the school, with no room for modern learning to occur. Additionally, 2-3 elevators would need to be added to make the school accessible for individuals with disabilities. 

 

How much more space would be needed to accommodate STC Middle School's current enrollment?

 

The district's architects, Invision Architecture, estimates that 33,102 additional square feet would be needed to provide adequate space for modern learning environments. This represents about a 58% increase above the space available at the current school. 

 

Could the district use the former Iowa Juvenile Home to address the middle school capacity concerns?

 

While the board considered the former Iowa Juvenile Home as an option, a close examination led to the board deciding against this option. 

 

The cost to renovate the property would be about 99% of that to build new. The current average classroom size in the building is 670 square feet. There are also several other limitations, including the fact that the gymnasium does not include seating for spectators. The building lacks a central kitchen, space for student collaboration areas and structural adaptability. Safety would also be a concern, as the building does not have a secure entrance sequence or a fire sprinkler system. 

 

The Iowa Juvenile Home is about the same size as the current middle school, which means the costs of renovations and expansions would be similar for both buildings. 

 

Where would the new school be located?

 

If all three questions on the ballot are approved by voters, a new middle school would be built on the south side of the current STC High School campus. 

 

What are the benefits of building a new middle school near STC High School?

 

After reviewing all potential options, the board decided that building a new middle school adjacent to STC High School would be the best path forward. 

 

A shared site holding both the high school and middle school would provide for opportunities to expand resources while creating efficiencies for staff members. In a recent community survey, more than 75% of residents said they favored the existing high school site or a site that makes the most financial sense to build a new STC Middle School.

 

The board believes that building a new school would make a meaningful impact on providing 21st century learning opportunities to students. It would also allow for construction to take place away from the current middle school, eliminating disruptions to the learning process. 

What work has the district done to date to examine its needs and find solutions?

 

In addition to our regular school board meetings and facilities committee work, below is a list of recent public meetings:

  • May 20, 2019: School Board Meeting - Facilities Assessment Results to Community

  • June 17, 2019: Public Facilities Meeting & Finance Information

  • August 13, 2019: Public Facilities Meeting & Finance Information

  • October 10, 2019: Juvenile Home Tour

  • November 12, 2019: Invision Architecture - Community Input Session

  • December 2, 2019: Invision Architecture - Project & Finance Overview

  • February 4, 2020: Piper Jaffray - Explanation of School Funding

 

What if only one or two, but not all three, questions are approved by voters?

 

The district’s next steps in this scenario would depend on which of the three questions are approved by voters. It is unlikely that Question 1, which asks voters permission to borrow $20.8 million toward a new middle school, would pass, while the other two questions would not. However, if this is the case, the district and board would need to reassess our options to determine the best way to move forward. 

 

If a new middle school is built, what will happen to the existing building?

 

The school district would have a number of options for the existing middle school building. One option would be to find a party from outside the district that would like to purchase the building for the purpose of remodeling and developing it. Another option would be to demolish the building. 

 

We understand this is a sensitive topic and the current building has a lot of history in our community. To that end, we would gather information and ask for the community’s feedback to determine how we should move forward. Any decisions would not be made in haste.

How long will it take to build a new building if the vote is approved?

 

If the three ballot questions are approved, design work would begin in 2020. Construction would then begin in 2021. The school would likely open its doors to students in 2022.

Will there be opportunities to vote early?

 

Yes! All registered voters may cast their ballots early at one of these satellite voting opportunities: 

Tuesday, February 4
Boys' Basketball vs. Solon
Voting Open: 5-8 p.m.

Tuesday, February 11
Girls' Basketball vs. Independence
Voting Open: 5-8 p.m.

Friday, February 28
STC Elementary School Carnival
Voting Open: 6-8 p.m.

All registered voters may cast an absentee ballot at one of the dates and times listed above. More information on additional absentee voting is available at http://www.tamacounty.org/auditor.html

© 2019 South Tama County Community School District

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